After having my juniors do perfectly acceptable Ignite or Pecha Kucha presentations last quarter, my goal this quarter is for excellence. My experience is that students spend a lot of time researching, some time putting the presentation together and almost no time rehearsing. Then, in order to improve their grades on the next presentation, they spend more time researching and putting the slideshow together and maybe even less time rehearsing. It’s all well and good to know your topic, but if you cannot convey it to someone else effectively, then you have not done a great presentation.
The assignment for today was to take an assigned topic from the first half of the 19th century in the US, create a single slide, and prepare a 1-2 minute presentation. The focus was on the presentation. We had previously looked at TED talks and discussed what made them more or less effective, so when I asked them to provide feedback for each other, the experience was fresh. Overall, I was impressed with the kindness and insight they demonstrated with their comments. Students saw and praised what went well in their peers’ presentations, and also provided some constructive feedback about areas that could be improved. This is always touchy because giving and receiving feedback is challenging. It also became clear that there were differences of opinions. Some students preferred some styles and others thought different ones effective.
In the end, I realized that there is no single formula beyond some of the basics on which we could agree – monotone is bad, organization matters, etc. I left them with the advice that they needed to be their best selves. They should be authentic in their presentation styles rather than imitate someone else. While everyone should seek to connect with an audience in a presentation, not everyone will do that in the same way. I shared the example of teachers – we may teach the same course, but our styles are very different. It took me a long time to learn that. If I can impart that in any way on my students, I think they are ahead of the game.